SES says FCC should make C-band registration easier, more affordable

SES satellite (Boeing)
SES says many earth station operators have chosen not to register their facilities due to the high cost and hassle. (Boeing)

C-band satellite service provider SES recently told the FCC that if it wants a more accurate database of satellite earth stations, it should streamline the registration framework to make it simpler and more affordable.

As revealed in a Dec. 7 ex parte filing (PDF), SES met with FCC staff on Dec. 5 to discuss midband spectrum and the history of C-band satellite. SES emphasized the benefit of C-band satellite capacity not only to cable operators but to other media industry members as well, explaining that virtually all of the video and audio programming enjoyed by U.S. consumers travels over a C-band satellite at some point in its journey to the end user.

Terrestrial operators have insisted the C-band satellite spectrum is underused, due in large part to the fact that most earth stations used to receive C-band programming content are not registered. But SES pointed out that registration of receive-only terminals is voluntary and provides little benefit since it only protects the earth station from subsequent C-band microwave links, and microwave use of C-band receive frequencies is extremely limited.

In contrast, SES says, registration is costly, requiring payment of a $435 fee per site and submission of a coordination report that often costs about $700. Therefore, many receive earth station operators have simply chosen not to register their facilities. That’s a big problem; the American Cable Association has estimated that 90% of its members’ receive earth stations are unregistered, and if that’s typical of C-band users, “there could be more than 30,000 receive-only earth stations in total,” SES said.

SES has suggested that the FCC undertake a two-step procedure to streamline the registration framework. The commission could collect basic location information first through an online data-entry process with no fee and then conduct a more thorough antenna registration but with significant modifications to encourage participation.

SES also said it has concerns about the potential negative impacts of introducing terrestrial mobile services into heavily used C-band spectrum and that forced sharing would be a lose-lose proposition, creating risks to existing satellite services while creating almost no opportunity for new terrestrial operations.

RELATED: Intelsat, Intel propose way for mobile industry to use C-band for 5G

SES noted that it is examining proposals like the one suggested by Intelsat and Intel for a market-based solution, and it’s also supportive of brainstorming about other ideas that could preserve satellite access to C-band spectrum for highly reliable programming distribution while accommodating expanded terrestrial use. But it strongly opposes any suggestion that the entire 500 MHz of C-band downlink spectrum could be made available, as that would not allow SES to continue providing important services to its customers.

RELATED: Google and other databases likely to make spectrum sharing easier

There is certainly a desire to clean up the FCC’s database that is supposed to show where ground-based fixed satellite service equipment is located and approved to operate.

Google examined the database using Google Earth imagery and found that 29% of the sites didn’t exist; however, that doesn’t include sites that may no longer be operational because the imaging technology doesn’t provide that level of detail.

At an event in October, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the commission needs a better understanding of the current number of C-band earth stations in existence, which is the only means for the commission to truly evaluate current use and protection mechanisms to the extent they are needed.